What’s REALLY Going On? An Observational Skills Workshop

When working with project teams, how many times do we see interactions and team dynamics at play without truly realizing what we are observing? And when we do observe, do we tend to inject our own biases into those observations? Observation is a powerful tool, but one which we may not take advantage to its true potential. After all, what exactly should we be observing, anyway?

There are many observational aspects such as body language and tone of voice that we may pick up on intuitively. But there are probably even more that pass us by because we’re simply not used to looking for or paying attention to them. By learning how to “up” our observational skills in a non-biased and judgmental manner, we can gain a deeper understanding of team dynamics and interactions allowing us to offer more meaningful and impactful support, coaching and empathy. The best way to become more observant is through deliberate practice, so let’s practice together through a series of group exercises in a fun and safe setting!

In this highly interactive workshop session, we’ll first review some tools and tips for you to consider to make you a better observer. Then we break the room into multiple groups of observers and builders. Builders will be assigned a challenging but fun task as the observers practice the new tools and ideas discussed earlier. When the task is complete, we allow plenty of time for debrief and discussion as the observers share their observations. We then switch roles (observers to become builders and vice-versa) as the builders attempt a new task for the new observers to witness.

If you are looking for new ways to connect with your project team, build new skills to enhance your agilist toolkit, or simply participate in an informative and interactive workshop, this session is for you!


Outline/Structure of the Workshop

We are excited to offer this session to Mile High Agile, based on the positive feedback we received from delivering this workshop in a large-group setting at the Global Scrum Gathering London in 2018. This session is highly interactive and will include a small amount of delivered content, a lot of small group exercise and discussion, and a large group debrief. The small group exercise is a modified version of an activity run by Esther Derby and Don Gray in their "Coaching Beyond the Team" course.

  • Introduce facilitators & learning objectives
  • Warm up prompt
  • This section is a talk to setup the learning outcomes and small group portion of the workshop.
  • Will highlight some potential observation areas (body language, tone of voice, use of pronouns, use of physical space, type of collaboration, decision-making process, mode of information sharing, etc.)
  • Review tips for effectively sharing observations with others (ex. factually stating in neutral language, withholding interpretation and judgement).
  • The small group exercise has two rounds, providing each participant the opportunity to practice being an observer and to feel what it’s like to be observed.
  • All exercise materials will be setup at the tables ahead of time and two facilitators will be available to help answer any questions during the exercise portion.
  • In the first round, half of each table group will be observers and the other half will be builders.
  • Builders will receive a challenge to build a 5-foot-tall structure out of index cards in 5 minutes, but with no restrictions on how they work together (all building supplies will be provided).
  • Before the building starts, observers at each table discuss and agree on what each person will focus on observing. It will be recommended that each observer pick just one area to observe and that observers in the same group don't all focus on the same thing. A worksheet with a list of potential observation areas will be provided.
  • During the building challenge, a large timer will be running to help keep track of remaining time. Observers will write notes in real-time as they observe the builders (Sharpies and post-its will be provided to observers).
  • After the building exercise, small groups will spend ~10 minutes sharing with each other. Observers will share what they noticed and stick the post-its with their observations onto a nearby flip chart.
  • Facilitators will ask for a couple tables to share some key takeaways from Round 1.
  • Observers and builders will switch roles.
  • The task for the builders will change to provide a different context. This time the builders will work together to define the 3 most important characteristics of a high-performing team in 5 minutes (flip chart paper, markers, and post-it notes will be available at the tables for the builders).
  • The rest of round 2 will flow the same as Round 1.
  • What did you learn about being an observer?
  • What was it like focusing on only one observation area?
  • Was it difficult to keep your observations neutral and avoid interpretation?
  • What did you learn about how it feels to be observed?
  • How might improving your observation skills enable you to better help your team(s)?
  • What will you try to work on after the session to improve your observation skills?

Learning Outcome

  1. Learn new tools and tips to enhance your observational skills.
  2. Practice observing different types of interactions
  3. Build empathy for what it feels to be observed
  4. Learn how to share observations in neutral, non-judgmental language

Target Audience

Any team member/role, but especially Scrum Masters, Agile Coaches, mentors, and managers.

Prerequisites for Attendees

No prerequisites. Everyone should be able to attend and benefit from this workshop.


schedule Submitted 2 years ago